By Angel Manuel Rodríguez
QUESTION: According to the Bible, what is the origin of rain?
Iam not sure about the purpose of your question, but I assume that you are interested in establishing how the biblical perception of rain as a natural phenomenon differs from our contemporary scientific view. Any comparison is probably inadvisable, since the Bible was written long before the rise of the Western interest in science. Critical scholars, viewing the Bible as a child of the ancient Near East, conclude that with respect to the operations of the natural world it corresponds with the mythological views of the surrounding cultures. The biblical view of rain does not support that perspective. Rain is a surprisingly complex matter.
1. Rain From Heaven: The association of rain with heav- en is a natural one based on observation—rain falls from the sky (“The land … drinks water from the rain from heaven” [Deut. 11:11]). Ac-cording to critical scholars, the Hebrews believed in a cosmic ocean above the solid firmament, and occasionally its windows were opened and disastrous rain came down (Gen. 7:11; see Isa. 24:18). It is also argued that other texts refer to places in heaven where rain, snow, and hail were in storage, from which they came down upon the earth (cf. Job 38:22). Other texts give the impression that in heaven are found bottles full of water, and whenever God tilts them water falls down to earth (Job 38:37). These suggestions need evaluation.
First, the Bible does not teach that the firmament is a solid dome holding back cosmic waters. This may be part of ancient mythology, but it is not biblical. Second, the language of storage rooms, bottles, and windows is obviously metaphorical. The windows of heaven are also mentioned in conjunction with blessings, bread, and trouble coming down from heaven (Mal. 3:10; 2 Kings 7:2; see Ps. 78:23; Isa. 24:18). As far as I know, no one has suggested that these windows are to be understood as literal. Third, the Israelites also knew that rain came during the rainy season (Joel 2:23), and that it fell from the clouds (Eccl. 11:3; Isa. 5:6). They also knew that the wind from the north could bring rain (Prov. 25:23).
2. Origin of Rain: How, according to the Bible, does water get to the sky or to the clouds? Did the Israelites have a natural way of explaining this phenomenon, or did they simply say, “God does it”? There is an answer that does not exclude God. First, we should indicate that clouds “ascend from the ends of the earth” (Ps. 135:7; Jer. 10:13), which could refer to the ocean (1 Kings 18:44) loaded with water (Job 26:8). This water comes not from a cosmic ocean above the firmament, but from the earth. Second, biblical writers had a basic grasp of the cycle of evaporation: “For he [God] draws up the drops of water; they distill his mist in rain, which the skies [Heb. šeúa-qîm, “clouds, sky”] pour down and drop on mankind abundantly” (Job 36:27, 28, ESV).* Notice the process: God draws up drops of water by transforming them into mist (vaporization), the mist becomes liquid (condensation), and falls from the sky/clouds as rain (precipitation). God is not excluded, because it is through His power that it all takes place.
3. God Does It! Rain in the Bible is simple yet mysterious, predictable and unpredictable; it nurtures life or destroys it. Although the Hebrews had a good understanding of it, they always marveled about it and its significance, crediting this wonder to the Lord: “[God] does great things, and unsearchable, marvelous things without number. He gives rain on the earth, and sends waters on the fields” (Job 5:9, 10). This sense of wonder expressed itself in praises to the Lord: “Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving . . . who covers the heavens with clouds, who prepares rain for the earth” (Ps. 147:7, 8). Even if they were unable to understand all aspects of the phenomenon, particularly when it took the form of a storm, they knew that God understood it well (Ps. 29). By saying “God does it,” they showed gratitude and never took rain for granted. It was always a gift from the Lord.
* Scripture quotations marked ESV are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Angel Manuel Rodríguez recently retired as director of the Biblical Research Institute of the General Conference.